Cash Value of Meaning and Truth

To better understand William James’s  metaphor of  the Cash Value of Truth, I would like to make a case that “Cash value of Meaning” would be an improved word choice for today.
This is to say that from a subjective stand point, a person decides what is meaningful and how meaningful in any given context ( family social, work social environmental, aesthetically such as Studying a sculpture in a gallery) etc), in a market like process. Each context has own meanings, finally interpreted by the person, himself in his own interests.William James

A simplified example two people in the context of conversation.

Each person brings memory, previous opinion, biology, world view, diction and present mood into the field of conversation. This context of meeting  includes the physical location, and participants, including anything in the background. It maybe limited to what was discussed. If the two converse freely, the talking points and their significance of each discussed topic is decided by the participants in a intersubjective manner. All the topics discussed belong to the conversation and should rely only on that field at the time. How significant each topic was is prioritized with events in that field of conversation.

This may have been a meaningful exchange. The importances of this bracket event: the conversation, is experienced and prioritized by emotive, intellectual and active reaction. the important moments are provocative.

Later, If one the participants, reflects on the conversation earlier (people usually do) to define more meaning, they are now creating a NEW context. Now the context, or field, is with the person and his memory. Probably not as provocative… the entire market place is within the coercion of his own world view and mood of the location and his body/mind. The participants of the market place, of this moment of reflection are entirely himself. All arguments are of himself… body,mind, location.

  • Each meaningful experience is localized event. This fits with James thoughts that life is a series of interwoven experiences.
  • Interpersonal / intersubjective meanings are less coerced when it is discussed or experienced with multiple participants, whether other people, organisms, or environmental agents. just as William James market- like metaphor suggest.
  • The building blocks of are more constant meaningful ideas are defined tested and retested by new day to day experiences.

“Truth’s” for  William James,  are meaningful (in that they provocative or conscious constructed) ideas that are assimilated by one or many by verification in the marketplace of a reality. Truth is always contextual, always referring to experience, social, environmental, spatial, etc.  Truth always refers to an experience or a series of experiences where they are verified intersubjectively by all the participants in the field.  This holds true in science and other Academic contexts where ideas are rigorously tested by  the tester,   subject and controlled fields of testing.

Meaningful Conclusion

Truth Happens to an Idea as James proclaims, after rigorous testing in experiences, or its deemed as not true.
“Meaning of Ideas” is when those ideas and happenings, true or not, have a significance or use,  and  a how significant or useful to the ideas that are  tested in the realm of experiences.


Agnostic Conditions Reprised

Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events. Its verity is in fact an event, a process: the process namely of its verifying itself, its veri-fication.

When  I read what William James published in “The Meaning of Truth”  I believed he was refering to the truth of ideas proposed by a single person or group of persons, a single consciousness or a collective of consciousness within their existence(s).   One  constantly tests  his/her stream of ideas within present environmental experiences and social experiences, and then with his/her memory of experiences… to judge a notion true or  not.
Navigating this uncertain world is certainly easier  by  taking an Agnostic position in regards to knowledge, and a willing to do the work of verifying ideas:  in participation and in experience.  But that’s just my opinion.  So  to start with an Agnostic attitude, what is “Agnosticism?”

Revised posted

Agnostic Conditions ” was originally posted on May 3, 2009

Agnostic – definition: not knowing or unknowing
What, then is the definition of Agnosticism?. If the definition of the root agnostic is “not knowing, or unknowing”, it is doubtful that one can define any full intellectual system of Agnosticism.–Much in the same manner one cannot with other “-isms” such as existentialism or postmodernism.
I was thinking about Jean-François Lyotard’s phrase: ” Postmodern Condition” , which is  a loose  bundle  of observations and criticisms about Modernism. (specifically: these postmodern conditions are conditions that expose Modern ideas of “progress, “Meta-Narratives”, “cause-effect”,”objectivity” of Modernity as fallacious. ).

I wonder that if instead of an “Agnosticism”, there was  a set of Agnostic Conditions, that were a reaction to theories of knowledge.
So I came up with a few agnostic conditions of my own:


  • Our total knowledge of all details is limited.
  • Nothing is absolutely known. What is “known” is based upon acceptable supporting evidence and verification.
  • Knowledge is limited to the collective experience, communication means and data storage of a group or person.
  • Knowledge is inseparable from consciousness. (which includes, previous and current meanings, bias, and introjection, etc)


  • A definition of Objective Reality: “what is real is measurable” as defined by classical physics; accepted as universal.
  • A definition of Subjective Reality: what is experienced, and accept as real by a single consciousness. such as the cognation of an organism’s interactions.
  • A definition of Intersubjective Reality. the collected objects, events, structures, descriptions, meanings, principles, etc that are shared as “real” between  subjective consciousness* conscious beings (organisms)
  • A definition of Absolute Reality: the way things truly happen, whether comprehensible or not.


  • meaningful… description of information, that is:
    • that is formed out of background of discord
    • that is relative: relative  to a topic, study, paradigm, “game” , time-space location, happening, or world- view.
    • that is defined  in language, symbols or gesture, for clarification or communication
    • that is prioritized in importance – intellectually and emotionally.
    • that is  prioritized   compared to other meanings in the  context… social, personal, environmental contexts
  • meaninglessness:  information that is not meaningful and therefore  remains, or is relegated to the background.


Uncertainty. Image from

  • I  decide that “X” is true, false, or probable. I could be wrong.
  • I do not have to decide if “X” is true, false, or probable  with out the considering the  agnostic conditions   ( of Knowledge, Reality, Meaning).
  • Uncertainty is inherent in the nature of things,  actions and decisions.

I think that agnostic conditions are an important considerations when studying epistemology and knowledge theories, and when making decisions and actions. They are a criticism and completion of such. For me, this is a definition for agnosticism: a set of conditions.

As for the repetitive question is “Does God exist”?
Well, one ,must define what he means when he ask about  “God” or gods, because there have been many definitions over time ,cultures contexts and subjective view points. How important is to know if God or gods exists or not?  Is it as meaningful  a question as to ask  “is there intelligent  life on other planets?, or knowing what goes on in other people lives in other countries?     It might be.  It might not be.

I don’t know.

* edited for clarity and grammar  11-17-2014

My Zen and Empiricism

Zen, originally Ch’an , is a practice within the frame work of Buddhism and ancient Chinese-Asian philosophies. Zen practice includes meditation, experiential learning and academically deconstructing language (if it is assumed that language is a vehicle of truth). Thus with Zen, the importance of doctrine and texts falls below the former in priority.

The Buddhist presence in Zen is found Zen’s strategy objectives:

  • to let go bad ideas and attachments;
  • to be with the true nature of things; events; happenings… or “Buddha-Nature” ;
  • to end or reduce angst and suffering.

Inferred from ancient Asian influences, of early Taoist philosophy: the best way for one to experience the nature of things, is to focus on the present moment at hand.– the here and now.

Kill the Buddha

Embrace nothing:
If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha.
If you meet your father, kill your father.
Only live your life as it is,
Not bound to anything

-attribute to Gautama Buddha.

The allegory’s rhetorical purpose is to encourage one not to rely on the teachings of others. If one conceptualizes “the Buddha” or Dharma in the teachings of one text, one teacher or one master, then one should destroy that picture. One practices to become , or to find his or her own “Buddha”. More accurately, One strives to be with his or her own true nature, or “Buddha-nature” with meditation and experience. Experience includes interpersonal activity (that may include listening or working with others), Zen as is largely a personal study and practice, first.

Depreciating dogma and grand teachings, Zen, or at least my Zen, takes on an agnostic nature.
Outside the social order of Buddhism as religion, many Zen Buddhist or Zennist practice a personal Zen that is often combined with other studies.

My Zen practice is secular in nature. my Zen is combined with Natural Science and Humanistic Psychology

Zen, Rogers and the Rest..

Humanistic psychologist and philanthropist Carl Rogers often cited early Taoism (*), the Ancient Chinese philosophy that influenced Ch’an. Fritz Perls co-founder of Gestalt Therapy studied Zen in Japan (although not entirely impressed with zen (*)) as much as he conversed in European coffee houses. . Writer/lecturer Allan Watts, shared his ideas from Zen Buddhism, Ancient Taoism and psychology, as they applied to contemporary living. Twentieth Century writers in the studies of both Eastern and Western philosophies and psychology drew from Zen Buddhism, Taoism, the works of Danish thinker Kierkegaard amongst others.

The experiential nature of Zen is an easy synthesis with the methods of Humanistic Psychology, where both clients and enthusiasts are encouraged to understand how they experience their environment. Zen and H.P agree on the concept of organism and field connectivity… I would say both are the study of being. To use big words of academic philosophy Zen practice and Humanistic Psychologies use methods of Ontological Empiricism or “phenomenology“. All this really means is that when one is practising or applying these awkwardly termed approaches , one seeks to understand his own nature, in real time as it happens. Zen is personal in method.

Zen and Scientific Investigations

Empirical-world.jpgI believe that as studies, Natural Science, in particular Physics, and Zen have similar aims. Both theorize that the way the universe happens has a structure… a constant and common underlying nature to everything and nothing. Natural Law, Tao, or Buddha Nature pick your words, Nature is illusive. Both Science and Zen aim to investigate the nature of the happening universe by Empirical means. Science uses rigorous testing while all the time remaining as objective as possible, zen is a more personal introspection. Humanistic psychology with its “phenomenological approach” also uses personal investigations, all the while “bracketing” or reducing bias and judgement that obscure ones own interpretation of Reality .’

A Not So Perfect Synthesis

The true nature of things, even with bracketed personal experience, meditation and scientific evidence can be incredibly hard to pin at times. Even with all the evidence of this constancy it still requires a bit of Kierkegaardian Leap of Faith. What this means, for me is, I don’t treat all circumstances and all people the same. If this sounds contradictory, hear me out:
Its impossible to use a single strategy or approach for every circumstance, every interpersonal gestalt…. I suspect: too many variables and people are too different. So I am, at times, a pluralist, in the William James vein when I am problem-solving. For Example, Conversing between peers in mental health management We often say “What works for one person may not work for the next:. Its the best I can do. I’ll save my pragmatic and localized problem-solving approach for another post,

What happens, Now

So I usually describe myself accurately as an “agnostic”, for those who find labels important and for those who ask, but that never seems satisfying. Being Agnostic? that really applies to the limitation of knowledge, a knowledge that fundamentally rested upon what humans can experience. (We can’t even be sure if anything known can be described outside the bracket of human experience -IMO)

Tongue Firmly in cheek… I will now introduce l myself as an “Empiricist” when prompted.
and we’ll see what happens. :)


Phenomenology is the  study of experiences: generally the experiences of a subjects (an organism, a group, or a single conciousness) interaction with “other” (eg. the environment, field, “world”, other happenings or other people  in contact with the subject) and from the subject’s  point of view.
This includes all integral structures and components:

  • mood, excitement, aggression, apprehension and expectations in circumstances.
  • Bias, “world view”, outlooks and introjection
  • intentionality (or towardeness) and mindfulness.
  • sensing, near and far (touch and taste are near, sight and hearing far)
  • sensing time  and observing change
  • imagining, feeling, problem solving, abstracting,
  • desiring, empathizing,expressing,
  •  affecting and being affected
  • experiential learning -learning by experience and activity
  • the limitations of experiencing
  • The communication of experiencing, i.e language, language modes
  • context and meanings
  • patterns (similarities of different experiences and applications)

Some benefits  of phenomenological investigation is:

  • One may improve his understanding of his ways of cognating and acting.
  • find deeper meaning in events by holistically experiencing them rather than reading about them.
  • understand and find meaning  in other peoples shared experiences, paradigms, by cultivating perspective-taking skills.
  • improve problem solving with experiential learning, and patterning.
  • feeling “tuned in” to the world.
  • abstracting, imagining and being affected by other’s experiences (development of empathy and language).

phenomenal flower

Phenomenology is not just a subjective and intersubjective discourse in philosophy.  It is important to  Science (where objectivity is preferred)  as well.  For example:  the activity, including observations, of the tester must be considered in any scientific test. A scientist is always trying to remove error and accidental tampering in his/her measurements and  remaining as objective as possible.
Now consider the science of Quantum mechanics.
The tester or observer is so grand compared to tiny particles in field,  that even his idle observing can effect his measurement of particles.  This means that a quantum physicist must account for his own “consciousness” or cognations in measuring and observing particles,  including his expectations, attitudes and limitations that could effect his data! At this extreme level of scientific observation, the scientist’s experience of  measuring objects and events in a field is a component of the field.

Phenomenology is a much discussed topic in the quantum mechanics and physics, as well as psychology and both Eastern and Western Philosophies.  It’s an important topic within any Empiricism .  If I had a complaint about phenomenology its that’s an awfully long word and I can never remember how to spell it. :) …. and just try to  fit the phrase “existential-phenomenology” (the phenomenology that focus on whole action and not just “consciousness“) into the 140 character limit of a twitter post.  Phenomenology is one more ugly word that is very useful.

on Being Empirical, Rational and Epistemologally Plural.

An old Economist  joke revised:

Two economy professors walk into  into a crowded bar .  One  pointed to the ground  and says “look! five dollar bill “. “It can’t be.” replied the Other.   “If it were somebody would have picked it up by now.”

This is  rational expectation in “rational choice theory”.  The  punch line of the joke is that  professors the believes in his principles of logic so strongly that he ignores the facts.  His rational expectation is only a prediction based on a logical foundation. It is only a prediction because circumstance challenges foundation.

I  flip a silver dollar coin  nine  consecutive times and in all nine times tails came up heads . I am now going to a flip the coin a tenth  and final time.

Janus CoinIs it more likely that the coin comes up heads again like it had before?   Or should I bet that the coin flip more likely ends in tails because it tails is due.  What does my experience tell me?
Using Mathematics, we know that neither is more likely: the outcome of a coin flip is 50%  likely to heads, and 50% likely to be tails….each time a coin is flipped, regardless of the past or future.
Thinking otherwise is called “Gamblers Fallacy”. Casinos count on this fallacy to make money..

Whether one relies more on evidence, facts and experience or whether one relies on logic, principles and mathematical predictions… One must consider both being empirical and rational, considering both apparent surface circumstance and the deeper connective constancy.

Empirical worldThe Science of Physics, beginning with Isaac Newton is a universal volume of rule to explain the surface of happenings, constantly being tweaked by new hypothesis and rigorous experimentation.
In that sense  found Newton an early  way to merge rationalism and empiricism to explain the way things work in the common denominator of the natural world.   Science and its method  strongly suggests that all that happens – or- is… follows the same rules.

But Science is largely incomplete,  does not always directly  address how one makes choices in his daily life, and says little about Ethics, Aesthetics or subjective conditions.
I may know what, why, or how things happen much of the time… but how should I or others act? what about quality and  non- quantitative measurable experiences?

Epistemological Pluralism.

Although the rational-empirical synthesis including science and technology  have been productive in age of reason, Its clear our knowledge  is  far from complete :  It maybe necessary to integrate or incorporate  other modes of thought, problem solving and investigations.
Some other modes of thinking  for  assimilating:


Does earth rotate around the sun? or does the Sun and other planets, stars wobble around a earth at the center?

It seems odd, but one  could argue either way.
Ultimately, It is more practical, in science and education to say the Earth Rotates  around the Sun.– the sun being the center of a “solar System”.  That’s how its taught to us in science class.

Pragmatism assumes pluralism.  There maybe two or more ways to interpret: an idea; proposal; or policy… The meaningfulness, or validity of each interpretation is defined by its usefulness and consequences in concrete reality– verifiable by experience.  That is, the most practical, or  most concretely useful interpretation of an idea,  policy, definition, or strategy is the correct one.
Some say we define objects, carve them out in our reality ,due to the objects associate usefulness, example I know a chair when I see one because of how  a chair is used in my life.
Pure pragmatism has its own consequence on its own, someone could justify any action as true by rationalizing its immediate usefulness.  With no other principles, and a too small a bracket of experience,   pure pragmatism- of- the- moment may leave one with unstable fluctuating world- view.   But integrated with reason and  experience I believe it is sound.
Pragmatism may ultimately be a way of deciding which paradigm is most useful for a task, in epistemological  pluralism.

Phenomenological Investigations
An important form of investigation is perspective-taking or “feeling-into“. An individual imagines other being’s circumstances, and the participation, capacity, cognition of other beings (people and animals) in those circumstances, checking in with his own emotions and cognition.
This holistic (mind/body)  form of investigation is a constantly evolving mix of logic, emotion, past experience, and unbias observation. Mixed with reason it is a powerful tool for developing personal ethics ;   understanding of other experiences  and other circumstances, and developing  choice- making of  “doing what feels right“.
Buddhist refer to this as this as “compassion” and western philosophers, humanist and existentialist refer to this as “Empathy“.

A phenomenological method of letting go of bias and mental clutter to experience unity and connectivity to the concrete (and for some spirit).    Also a method of of mysticism, and a way to realize nature  that  transcends using  Reason alone.  Much is written by me  on this blog, from a  Zen perspective.
SEE the Meditation Category.

Somewhat esoteric form of intellectual criticism. Deconstruction is a way of critical thinking from a nihilistic percspective.
decontsruction serves to expose or extract the cultural bias, norms, zeitgeist, symbolism, self containment, meaning, modes of thinking, and or absurdity of a “text”.
A “text” code be anything from film, law books, to music that reflect the thinking time or genre….
Deconstruction is a way to think outside of the box.

Figure and Ground.
Some say  a social movement can be studied by comparing it to what is not.
For example: one might critique “Feminism in Twentieth Century” as to where it contacts “What is not Feminism” in the Twentieth Century.
What happens when a social movement meets, conflicts, withdraws or compares with what -is- not  the movement in the era, gives definition to a movement.  Imagine a figure in a picture against its back round, where the figure is shaped by its edges..  Gestalt social theory is not in vogue, probably because there aren’t many rules.
But it is an interesting way of thinking,  The Figure/ground concept is prevalent in Eastern Philosophies pertaining to phenomena , Holism, Field Theory and gestalt  psychology of perception.
This may give us some ways of looking at social phenomenon that scientific method has difficulty with.

Hermeneutics is a  broad  branch of study pertaining to    interpreting  Scripture , Law, myth and  parable stories … the meaning ,the language ,and  the symbolism.
Hermeneutics  also included the process of interpretation of texts.  For example:
When The U.S Supreme Court interprets  the U.S.  constitution, ratified in 1788  the federal judges consider  the intentions of the Constitutions authors  when they wrote the words.
Another Example:  Protestant reformer Martin Luther postulated that interpreting meaning in the Bible rest in the authority of the reader.
So where does the meaning of scripture, law and myth reside? the writer in his time zeitgeist? the reader in his time, age in zeitgeist.  Who has the authority to interperet meaning? All these are important in  anthropological and cultural study. Hermeneutics is that investigation.

There are many other more modes of thinking.
Why is pluralism so important?   Why do we need to integrate and incorporate other paradigms into our thinking  ?
As Abraham Maslow, early humanistic  psychologist ,once said, “”If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”   Have only one way to solve difficulties and interpret,   than we tend to  know  things in  only one manner.  If we are to understand and study reality in all its  richness and  facets, including science, the humanities, ethics, aesthetics, well being, then we need to have many different kinds of tools.

Wise quotes for Empirical thinking

Thinking empirically is deriving knowledge and assumptions from experience, experiment, and perceptual evidence. Its thinking for practice and use in the real world.
Here are some Wise Quotes for empirical thinking by some very smart men:


In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is.

— Jan L. A. van de Snepscheut


…science without ethics is sociopathology.
To say, “I’ll apply what I know regardless of the outcome
” is to take absolutely no responsibility for your actions.

–Bill Mollison


1. Out of clutter find simplicity
2. from discord find harmony
3. In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity

–Albert Einstein
(three rules for work).


Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.

–Soren Kierkegaard.


Keep it simple, stupid.



Truth happens to an idea.

-William James
(source: “The Meaning of Truth” by William James)


Empirical world


Other posts with wise quotes: